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Contributed By Joni Doolin, Co-Founder, Board Member, Advisor at Black Box Intelligence™

The perfect storm of massive job losses, social unrest and racial tensions, significant and aggressive compensation competition from other service sector employers, continuing struggles with childcare and the lingering fear of COVID-19 has made one thing clear; our workforce may never be the same. Just as business products and services are innovating and re-inventing at warp speed, we quickly need to re-invent and innovate our workplaces. How employees look for jobs and their expectations for fair and equitable treatment have changed. 

The uncomfortable truth for the industry is that even after all the post-Covid dust settles, including enhanced unemployment benefits, it is likely that our employee pipeline will continue to be short of enough quality candidates and hires. This is not a new reality; the pandemic just accelerated it by a decade. While the traditional number one source of new employees, referrals, is still number one, it will not be enough. We will also need to expand our talent outreach to new pools and sources. One source, highlighted by Black Box Intelligence starting in 2019, disadvantaged and formerly incarcerated candidates.  

With over 650,000 people released from prison each year, about two thirds of them will return to the justice system according to the US Department of Justice. Finding employment is one of the largest challenges faced by formerly incarcerated people. Without a job or reliable housing, many find themselves facing the same pressures as before and thus, may go back to committing crimes that put them back in prison. For restaurants that exclude applicants with a criminal history, it is time to think about why and revisit the potential expansion of our applicant pool when we consider these candidates, many who are just looking for an opportunity. 

In January 2020, we closed our Global Best Practices Conference with two immensely powerful sessions. Chris Wilson, author of the Master Plan, sentenced to life in prison at the age of 17, told his story of rehabilitation and current work to help the formerly incarcerated transition to productive meaningful lives. His own story, and his ongoing advocacy and success in these efforts is inspirational. Chris is a prime example of someone who was dealt a tough hand and overcame adversity with a lot of arduous work, but also, seized an opportunity when it was presented to him. Imagine the possibilities for restaurants who may open their talent pool to others in similar situations.  

Chris was followed by a panel of employees from the Dallas based Café Momentum, all of them formerly incarcerated in the juvenile justice system. Founded by award winning chef Chad Houser, this program is changing lives, and creating committed and reliable team members for the restaurant industry. Over 1000 employees have graduated and continued in their new careers.  

When the pandemic shut down the Dallas restaurant community, Café Momentum students cooked, packed and served meals to the families of restaurant workers who needed food. Chad and his team also spent time during the pandemic to accelerate their plans to expand this remarkable program nationally. The Momentum Advisory Collective was formed to expand Café Momentum and the Momentum model for juvenile justice across the country.  

In March, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation announced a national partnership with the HOPES Program (Hospitality Opportunities for People (Re)Entering Society) a collaboration between businesses, state restaurant associations and community-based organizations that provides pathways to success for justice-involved individuals looking for a new start. The partnership launches this month in Chicago-area MOD Pizza locations, with plans for a nationwide rollout later this year. The brainchild of Scott and Ally Svenson, founders of the wildly successful MOD Pizza chain, have incorporated the concept of offering training and employment to non-traditional job candidates since they opened their first unit in Seattle.   

In his pivotal work The Second Mountain, David Brooks tells the story of a couple in Washington D.C. who started hosting weekly dinners for young people in their community, because their son knew that many who went to the public school did not have enough to eatNearly a decade later they are still doing the work that they have dubbed “radical hospitality, the idea that no one should be shut out. As we navigate this next incarnation of our workplaces, and rebuild our businesses as cornerstones of the community, it may be the time for radical hospitality as a foundation for how we do it.  

  

You can learn more about Chris Wilson and his story here on his website. 

For more on Café Momentum: visit The Momentum Advisory Collective which was formed to expand Café Momentum model for juvenile justice across the country. You should also check out The Café Momentum documentary airing Tuesday night June 1. You can sign up here to watch, share and support. 

HOPES Program (Hospitality Opportunities for People (Re)Entering Society). 

You can get involved and support the HOPES project, by partnering with the National Restaurant Educational Foundation. Click here to learn more. 

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